New evergreen tree species found in Western Ghats

Scientists attached to the University of Kerala and the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute have reported the discovery of a new species of evergreen tree from the southern Western Ghats, highlighting the abundance of life forms in the biodiversity hotspot.

The team comprising R. Jagadeesan and A. Gangaprasad from the Department of Botany, University of Kerala, and Sam P. Mathew, E. Santhoshkumar and J. Stephan from the JNTBGRI came across the new species during a trip to the Mathikettan Shola National Park in Idukki district as part of a study on endemic flora.

The researchers named the specimen Symplocos nicolsonii after critical taxonomic investigations revealed it as a new species with distinct characteristics. The finding has been published in Annals of Plant Sciences, an international open access e- journal.

According to the paper, Symplocos nicolsonii is characterised by elliptic brittle egg- shaped leaves with the narrower end at the base, flowers with a hairy cuplike base and white or pale yellow petals, thick fleshy fruits and oblong yellowish brown seeds.

The trees with a rough brownish grey bark grow upto 15 m tall. The species flowers during the season from December to March and fruiting is from March to May.

The genus Symplocos comprises about 300 species distributed in Asia, America, Australia and East Indies. As many as 14 species and 11 sub species have been reported from the Western Ghats, some of them with medicinal properties.

Dr.Gangaprasad said the new species was discovered along the margins of the evergreen forest on the Santhanpapra- Pooppara route at an elevation of 2,200 to 2,500 m. “We could locate only three mature trees within an area of about five sq km.”

The species was named after the noted botanical taxonomist Dan H.Nicolson who passed away in June this year. “As a species with sparse population and one that has not been reported elsewhere, Symplocos nicolsonii needs a conservation strategy. Detailed studies will have to be carried out to assess its phytochemical and medicinal properties,” Dr.Gangaprasad said.